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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review: The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

This is another old review that I am posting in order to provide a sense of my opinion of Pratchett's individual work before I delve into his collaboration with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens.

The Colour of Magic – Terry Pratchett
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-genre: Satire
Completed: April 15 2010

Some of my friends loved Terry Pratchett in high school. He has a massive reputation among fans of Fantasy. His books are renowned for their humour. They’re so short. Why did it take me so long to read one?

I’m a completionist, so The Colour of Magic was an obvious choice. It’s the first of Pratchett’s (in)famous Discworld novels, which do for Fantasy what The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy did for Science Fiction.

I wanted to like it. I didn’t want to be that guy. I had been forewarned that it’s nowhere near the best in the Discworld series. Concensus among writers seems to be that you take a few books to hit your stride, but there’s still plenty to like and laugh at in The Colour of Magic, and enough to encourage me to read on in the Discworld. It’s a short read too, so there’s not much to lose.

Where The Colour of Magic shines is of course in establishing the Discworld. I’ll leave it to Pratchett’s words for explanation of what it is. Suffice it to say that the image he conjures on the page and in your mind is hilarious and unforgettable – simply trying to imagine it makes your head spin. If a setting made a story this would be an awesome book.

Naturally Pratchett’s quirky world needs to be filled with equally odd characters, beginning with his non-hero, Rincewind. Rincewind is an incredibly poor magician, but is freakishly successful at eluding Death (yes, upper case ‘D’). Rincewind is joined by the charmingly naïve TwoFlower, a tourist visiting the various nations of the Disc, and TwoFlower’s um… animated and rather ferocious luggage. Many of the other characters in The Colour of Magic are stereotypes but that’s precisely the point, because Pratchett is parodying the recurring tropes of Fantasy.

Regular readers of Fantasy books, like myself, will probably enjoy Pratchett’s writing because you will be in on the jokes. He clearly loves the fiction that he is lampooning, so his style is warm and the jokes are good-natured. None of the characters exist purely to be mocked. Their cowardice, greed and selfishness are made to seem perfectly reasonable in the ridiculous circumstances they are faced with.

So the plot… well it’s not always coherent, and it’s not really important. Nor is it concluded in The Colour of Magic (apparently I need to read on with The Light Fantastic). It’s simply designed as a vehicle to send poor Rincewind spiraling across the Discworld into the hands of whacky characters (who all want to kill him). A cynical reader would see it as an extended Discworld geography lesson.

I did enjoy reading The Colour of Magic though there were probably a few too many times that I found myself thinking either; a) it’s short, just push through, or, b) reading it will payoff when you read other books. I give it 3 stars for being fairly amusing, but again it’s one of those books that I appreciated and am glad I read, but didn’t love. I can’t give it 2 or 4 anyway, because they are factors of the number which must not be named.

Read it – if you are intending to delve further into the series, rather than just looking for a taste of Terry Pratchett’s work and sense of humour.
Don’t read it – if you think a whole novel, albeit a short one, is too much time to spend setting up a series.

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